What’s the deal with those pipeline hearings anyway?

Take a scan through the latest media headlines and you’re sure to see some mention of public hearings on proposed pipeline projects. And as we’ve been out in the community talking to Canadians, it’s clear this is on top of many people’s minds. You’ve got questions – and we’ve got answers.

What’s the point of a public hearings?

When a company wants to build any type of energy transportation infrastructure, including pipelines, they must submit an application for approval to the appropriate regulator. Before approval is given, a public hearing may be held. The purpose of this hearing is to give the company proposing the project, and any other interested people or groups, a chance to provide information on the project, ask questions and provide input in support of or against the project. The regulator then uses this information to decide whether or not to approve the project. Generally speaking these hearings are presided over by the board of a regulatory agency, such as the National Energy Board (NEB) or Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB).

Public hearings are an important part of Canada’s pipeline regulatory process. They’re designed to protect public interest and allow interested parties to express concerns, ask questions and ultimately have a say in projects that impact their communities. Pipeline companies welcome this scrutiny as an opportunity to be transparent, with the public and the media, and as a collaborative exercise to ensure that pipelines are built safely and in an environmentally sustainable way.

How does the process work?

Here’s a quick breakdown of the general steps of a hearing process:

  1. A company files an application with the appropriate regulator.
  2. If it is determined that a hearing should be held, the public is notified of the hearing.
  3. Intervenors register to take part in the hearing.
  4. Intervenors prepare and submit written submissions to support their intervention. Companies do the same with their evidence.
  5. Intervenors may file Information Requests to get additional information from the applicant.
  6. The applicant presents their case and evidence and may question their own witnesses. The intervenors and the regulators’ board panel may then cross-examine witnesses.
  7. Intervenors present their case and evidence and follow the same procedure as above.
  8. All hearing participants provide a final argument.
  9. The panel uses all evidence and arguments presented in the hearing to make an informed decision about the application. The decision is then released to the public.

For a more in-depth look at the hearing process, check out the NEB’s The Public Hearing Process document. 

Provincial regulators have their own hearing processes, which you can find out more about by visiting their individual websites. Visit this helpful page from the ERCB site, for example.

What exactly is an intervenor? Who can intervene?

An intervenor is a person or group that has an interest in a proposed project (anyone other than the applicant) and would like to formally participate in the hearing. They may oppose or support the project. Intervenors must register to take part in the process. They may present evidence, question other witnesses and give final arguments during the hearing. Intervenors can also be questioned on any evidence they present.

Intervenors can be:

  • Landowners
  • Area residents
  • Government agencies
  • Aboriginals
  • Companies
  • Any other individual or group

How long do hearings take?

The length of a hearing will depend on many different factors. Some of these factors include the complexity of the application, the scope and the number of intervenors. Public hearings are meant to be a venue for factual dialogue between all parties with an interest in a project. The process is set up to encourage objective discussions so that the regulator can make an informed decision on behalf of the public. A great deal is covered during these discussions and that takes time.

So here’s the bottom line: when they operate as intended, public hearings are an effective way to ensure the interests of the public and environment are balanced against the energy and economic benefits of a project. And it’s this goal that our member companies are focused on.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 110,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2011, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.